Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome Erica Vetsch!

Ink Pens [explored]photo © 2009 TMAB2003 | more info (via: Wylio)
What's in a Name - Part 1:

As I sit here at Caribou Coffee writing this blog post, the trivia question of the day is: Which famous actor cut the first syllable - Bum - from his/her last name? A) Brad Pitt B) Jennifer Aniston C) Sally Field D) James Garner (If a customer gets the trivia question correct, they get $.10 off their order.)

Would we view Brad Pitt differently if his name was Brad Bumpitt? (Makes me think of the hair accessory.) Or if Sally Field was Sally Bumfield?

Face it, the name Cary Grant evokes a much different image in our minds than someone named Archibal A. Leach, and William Pratt doesn't it sound the least bit scary, but Boris Karloff sure does.

Marion Morrison or John Wayne?
Alan Alda or Alphonso D'Abruzzo?
Barbara Stanwyck or Ruby Stevens?
Chuck Norris or Carlos Ray?
John Denver or Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. (Yeah, really!)

Just as actors change their names to fit their personas, authors choose character names that portray the type of person they are trying to create. Naming characters can be difficult as finding a title for your novel (which we'll talk about more tomorrow.) Every author has a different method of naming characters, but here are a few of the issues I take into consideration when making these decisions.

1. The setting. This is first and foremost in my mind when naming characters because I write historical fiction. While Madesyn Skylar, Xoe, and Marley are fine names for little girls in the 21st century, they were not popular names in the 1870's. My favorite place to find names that are historically accurate is history books. Famous people (and not so famous people) who were adults when my story is set. Census records are helpful here, too. Biblical names are always good in historicals.

2. Ethnic background. If my characters are Irish Scot, Norwegian, or Russian that will influence what their names are, both first and last. And if they are of mixed heritage, I get to be even more creative. I have a character in an upcoming novel whose mother was Irish and her father was Norwegian. She bears the name Meghan Thorson.

3. Economic status. The income level/education level of the characters influences their names quite a bit. Would you believe credible a dirt-poor backwoods girl name Patricia Octavia Montmorency-Fotheringham? Probably not. My first series of Heartsongs was set amongst the affluent class of the Gilded Age. Heroines named Melissa, Anastasia and Josephine. My next series was set in Idaho Territory thirty years before, and the heroines were named Clara, Lily, and Maggie.

4. Characteristics and connotations. Some names automatically evoke certain feelings. It would be hard to consider a manly hero whose name was Periwinkle Pearl Littleton. And what about heroines? It's hard to envision a heroine named Mabel Clutterbuck in a glorious evening gowning waltzing Mrs. Astor's Manhattan mansion.

5. Exceptions. This is where a bit of fun comes in. An author can always make exceptions if she properly explains/motivates the name choice. What if Periwinkle Pearl was a family name and he spent his whole life defending it. Or hiding it behind a nickname/fake name? Or if Mabel Clutterbuck has come into a fortune and must overcome her pedestrian roots in Papillion/My Fair Lady type of story? There are exceptions to every rule, and as long as the author explains the chasm between the name and the situation, it's okay to be a bit unconventional.

What about your name? Do you think it fits your personality? Or how did you come up with names for your kids?

(The correct answer to the trivia question is D) James Garner was born James Bumgarner. I guessed correctly and got my $.10 off.)


  1. AnonymousMay 17, 2011

    Great information, Erica. I love the actor trivia, too. I grew up watching The Rockford Files with my dad.

  2. I watched some of The Rockford Files as a kid...didn't he have a trailer on the beach and wasn't he getting punched all the time? :)

    Thank you for dropping by and commenting! Have a great day!

  3. AnonymousMay 17, 2011

    Oh, what fun picking out names for our characters can be. Or what a puzzle! I think you've covered the determining factors in choosing.

    I'm intrigued by your book with a hero who is blind. How hard for him and the heroine! Sounds like a great read.

    I've never liked my name, so we let our daughter name herself. She was 3 when we adopted her and quite opinionated. LOL!

  4. My curiosity is itching...what did the little girl name herself???